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Significant drop in U.S. carbon emissions, as economy grows

Posting in Energy

There's a bit of good green news out of the United States today. Even as the economy grew last year with GDP rising 2.8 percent, energy consumption fell 2.4 percent and energy-related carbon emissions dropped 3.8 percent, according to the latest report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That's the second biggest drop in carbon emissions in the last 20-plus years, behind only the 7.1 percent plunge in 2009 when the economy was going in the opposite direction it is now. These latest statistics show that U.S. emissions are at their lowest level since 1994 and 12 percent below the emissions peak in 2007.

Even more impressive was the 6.5 percent decrease in carbon intensity of the U.S. economy, meaning the amount of carbon emissions per GDP. That's the largest drop since the statistic was first measured in 1949 and only the third time there has been a reduction of more than 5 percent in the carbon intensity of the economy.

The EIA is attributing the reduction in carbon emissions to a number of factors. Among them, a decrease in heating fuels because of a warmer winter; more energy-efficient vehicles entering the market; a reduction in residential energy consumption; and greater efficiency in electricity generation, transmission and distribution. Another big factor is the increased use of cleaner-burning natural gas and a sharp decline in coal use.

Yay!

But at the risk of souring the mood after some pretty significant news, it's worth pointing out that emissions reductions are only as good as global emissions numbers. And those numbers, unfortunately, are going up. In fact, according to EIA, global carbon emissions hit a record high in 2012. Plus, even in the U.S., the downward trend in carbon emissions doesn't look like it will last long.

Want to go back to the good news? There are a lot more graphs from EIA on last year's emissions here.

Photo: Flickr/Chuck Coker

Graphs: EIA

— By on October 22, 2013, 5:52 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure